DAY ONE: Another Agarwal century gets India off to a flying start; Day one in Pune
It was the festival of Durga Puja that led to the venue for the second Test being switched from Ranchi to Pune. The official dates for the celebration were listed from 4th – 8th October but in reality the festivities are extended over a ten day period. According to legend the festival signifies the birth of Durga with blessings from the gods in the form of collective energy to be used to fight the demon King Mahishasura. Apparently Mahishasura was blessed with immortality and couldn’t be killed by god or man which is why a goddess had to accomplish the feat. Durga would take a different form each day to fight the demon until finally on the tenth day ( Dashami ) – the last day of Durga Pura she was finally allowed to kill him. It always appears to me as a good excuse for people to try to make money by selling all sorts of things along the side of the road and I have no doubt there are plenty of examples of this kind of activity currently taking place in Ranchi. However after ten days of haggling most of the stall holders would likely have run out of plastic statues, balloons, incense sticks and fireworks and would have been relatively happy to pack up their belongings and head off back to wherever they normally made their rupees.
My arrival in Pune coincided with the tenth day of the festival referred to as Dussehra in these parts and although the streets were not lined with stalls selling statues of Kali, the owner of the general store near the “Way Down South” Dosa restaurant had all the plastic statues any devout Hindu could ever wish to own. The streets near the Hotel Orchid had surprisingly been repaired to some extent since my last visit and a few new shops had opened selling clothes and a range of household items. It took three visits to different banks before I could find one that would allow me to successfully access rupees from the ATM, but I eventually got organized and even purchased a new blue pen in case Rohit Sharma gets carried away with hitting sixes off the hapless South African spinners.
At 8 pm the evening before the Test match it was “raining cats and dogs” as my mother used to describe heavy rain in Ireland. I was watching through the hotel window thinking there are enough dogs in India already. The rain continued to fall and the puddles gradually turned into little lakes on the side of the road. I decided against leaving the hotel to search for an alternative restaurant for the second night running. I thought about watching the T20 cricket between Pakistan and Sri Lanka on the TV instead but the satellite wasn’t working properly due to the weather. The rain demands to have the final say in everything I want to do at the moment.
Sarang and I eventually met up at around 8.15 am at the reception area of my hotel and the drive to the ground took a little over 20 minutes. Due to the very wet weather the fields that were used for parking the last time I was here were out of use and the only concrete surface available for parking in the area added an additional twenty minute walk into the travelling equation. Still we managed to get to Gate 3 in plenty of time until the security guards decided to object to certain things we were trying to bring into the ground. Pete was already engaged in a futile argument with an obstinate jobs-worth who insisted that Binoculars were strictly forbidden and Pete needed his to be able to read the scoreboard. Bags were the other big issue. It was no problem bringing in pens, scorecards, newspapers and reading books but you couldn’t have a bag to carry them in. It was all rather stupid and it often is wherever “security” is involved in India. Eventually Viru my little friend from previous Tests came to the rescue and asked the owner of a nearby house to look after the bags and binoculars. I still managed to smuggle in two plastic bags in case it rained and we were finally in the stadium just as play was about to begin. I sneaked in while the main enforcer was busy explaining to a newly arrived spectator that an umbrella couldn’t be taken into the ground despite thunderstorms being forecast for the next five days and over 80 % of the ground being uncovered and there being absolutely nowhere you could take shelter. You really couldn’t make this up.
India had won the toss again to add to the South African losing sequence flipping coins in Asia. Kohli inevitably elected to bat but surprised a few people by picking Umesh Yadav as an extra fast bowler at the expense of Hanuma Vihari. The South Africans gave a debut to Anrich Nortje, another young fast bowler and left out the off-spinner Dane Piedt. While having breakfast I had read that 56 spinners have conceded 200 or more runs in a Test match in India but none have achieved this while bowling as few overs as Dane Piedt sent down in the first Test. Piedt’s overall figures were 36 – 4- 209 – 1 which amounts to an economy rate of 5.81. Basically if a spinner isn’t attacking the batsmen on a turning pitch trying to take wickets then they need to be preventing runs being scored quickly while the fast bowlers have a break. Piedt clearly failed to sign up to either of these roles in Visakhapatnam and with du Plessis determined to take 20 wickets in Pune it wasn’t too hard to follow the logic as to why he was left out, even if personally I didn’t perceive it to have been a good decision.
We managed to sit at the back of Bay 7 having missed exactly one over which was an excellent result in the circumstances. The bonus from all this crazy “security” was that vuvuzelas were also confiscated at the gate and I would happily carry my score sheets into the ground balanced on my head if that was part of the deal to keep them out. We looked across to the Stand with a similar view on the other side of the sight screen and noticed some South African supporters who had entered via Gate 1and had been allowed to bring in bags. We also spotted one person using an enormous pair of binoculars. Que sera sera. Philander had a big lbw shout against Agarwal and when he called for a review the batsman was saved by the “umpire’s call.” Nortje was brought on to bowl the ninth over and should have had a wicket from his third delivery when an edge went begging to be caught between the wicket-keeper de Kock and first slip de Bruyn. Rohit Sharma ended up being the first man to be dismissed caught behind off Rabada for 14 ( 25 – 1 ). It was basically a very good delivery that cut back and had the batsman cramped for space and forced to play a shot.
Pujara was dropped on 0 by Bavuma at forward short leg, the ball deflected straight into his hands and out again with Rabada the unfortunate bowler. Sudhir came to visit for a few overs and Agarwal chose that particular time to smash three quick boundaries off Nortje. To have Sudhir energetically waving his flag was a godsend helping to cool everybody down for a few minutes. A Chai Wallah arrived much to my delight and 50 Rupees were immediately handed over. Nortje was having problems with the foot holds after only 80 minutes and Maharaj was brought on to bowl the 20th over. Pujara used his feet to drive two boundaries through the leg side off his first over. The 50 partnership came up from 90 balls. Lunch was taken shortly after with the score 77 – 1 from 25 overs.
The interval provided me with my first opportunity to review the facilities. The toilets were exceptionally clean for an Indian Test ground but unfortunately they were located three flights of stairs away. There was a wide range of food available including Lebanese falafel wraps, paneer and potato wraps and various biryani dishes. Samosas and ice creams were there and free drinking water from a metal cup chained to the dispenser was readily available. I returned to my seat to take in and appreciate the marvelous view one gets when sitting at the Pavilion End. With the hills at the opposite end of the ground I could almost imagine being back in County Wicklow. There was certainly an appropriate level of rainfall to justify the comparison but perhaps the temperature gauge in Pune had the mercury level a notch or two above anything normally experienced in Ireland. There were families of Dusky Crag Martins flying to and fro under the stand to add to the overall atmosphere.
Philander and Maharaj resumed bowling after the interval and Agarwal continued to attack the spinner using his feet to hit boundaries on both sides of the ground. He brought up his half century from 112 balls with a cut to the fence at backward point off Maharaj having already hit no fewer than ten boundaries. Nortje was brought back and looked quite hostile when he got the ball to pitch in the right areas. He was certainly generating some good pace but Pujara didn’t appear to be at all fazed by any of it. Agarwal took the aggressive approach towards dealing with the threat from Nortje and pulled a couple of boundaries to bring up the 100 partnership from 198 balls. Muthusamy replaced Nortje at the Hill End and when he dropped short Pujara heaved the ball over the rope at deep square leg for a six. Rabada returned to take over from Muthusamy after only two overs and Pujara completed his half century from 107 deliveries.
Pujara was eventually caught low to his left at slip by du Plessis off Rabada for 58 making the score 163 – 2. Agarwal edged Rabada wide of second slip when on 82 and Tea was taken a few overs later with the score 168 – 2 from 53 overs. The light was fading at this stage and the floodlights were switched on. The clouds were beginning to build up and a message came through that it was already raining in the centre of Pune. Agarwal responded to the changing conditions by hitting Maharaj for successive sixes shortly after the resumption to take his score to 99. He reached his second century in two matches with a fortunate cut off Philander that went too close to the gully fielder for comfort. His second Test century had required 183 balls and included 2 sixes and 16 fours. His attitude was perfect with rain expected at any time as he set about increasing the scoring rate. Kohli was getting a little bogged down until he stepped back to a short delivery from Maharaj and crashed the ball through the covers.
An excellent lifting delivery from Rabada resulted in Agarwal being caught by du Plessis at slip for 108 ( 198 – 3 ). I noticed the badge on one of the security officers who sat in the row in front of me briefly said “Third Eye Dog Security” which presumably explained the Labrador sleeping in the middle of the aisle earlier in the afternoon. Rahane required 17 deliveries to get off the mark and he did so in emphatic style hitting Nortje off the front foot to the boundary wide of deep mid wicket. Elgar and Muthusamy bowled a few quick overs before the new ball was taken after 80 with the score 248 – 3. The 50 partnership between Kohli and Rahane was completed from 114 balls with Rahane contributing only 12. Kohli completed his 48th score of 50 or over in Tests from 91 balls and the scoreboard was ticking over nicely for India. There were 4.5 overs still remaining in the day when the umpires went off for bad light following a delivery from Rabada that climbed sharply and deflected to the boundary off Rahane’s glove. The score at the close of play was 272 – 3 from 85.1 overs. As I left the ground I imagined the security officials having a meeting to discuss what idiotic new rules they might wish to introduce tomorrow morning.
DAY TWO: Kohli’s seventh double century leaves India in a commanding position; Day two in Pune.
All around the cricketing playing countries of the world people used to gather around radios to listen to the commentary before the advent of television. In many places the radio has survived and excellent commentary can still be found in places like South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and even England at times when the people employed decide to talk about cricket and not Strictly Come Dancing or what they had for dinner the previous night. In the Caribbean it used to be wonderful to watch and listen to the people arguing about the cricket while gathered around a radio blasting out in the stands somewhere in the Queens Park Oval. In India the popularity of radio declined rapidly in cricketing circles during the eighties coinciding with the revolution in Satellite TV broadcasting. It was around 1994 when the BCCI decided to sell the broadcasting rights for radio transmission and All India Radio had the deal sown up until 2014. After that there appeared to be no radio broadcasting of cricket for a period of 5 years until recently when AIR and the BCCI entered into an arrangement that provides for radio commentary on Indian matches up to August 2021 as well as for domestic matches including the Ranji Trophy and the Women’s Challenger Series. The new initiative was purported to be an attempt to take cricket into every corner of India but the main force behind it probably has more to do with access to potential new customers for advertisers and sponsors. The renewed association between the BCCI and AIR was given a proper run for the first Test match in Visakhapatnam and according to the radio commentators and producers it was highly successful. Well they would say that, so don’t read too much into it. People are not able to access the new arrangements on mobile applications apparently as they are “under the purview of digital rights” and as for being allowed to take old style radios into the cricket grounds in India, there’s more chance of discovering a brain somewhere between Donald Trump’s two ears.
I managed to gain entry without any problems today with the back pack left in the hotel and a couple of folded empty plastic bags hidden under my clothing to protect the score sheets should it rain later in the day. Sarang attempted to get his binoculars in without success and had to quickly return to the car but he still just about made it into the ground in time to see the first ball. The internet was informing everyone that the DRS referral system had crashed and was currently unavailable. Kohli edged Philander in the first over of the day and de Kock was unable to dive across in time to accept the chance. The wicket-keeper and slips appeared to be standing too far back. Rahane and Kohli survived a difficult half an hour before Kohli played a wonderful straight drive all along the ground off Rabada. Rahane edged Philander just out of the reach of Markram in the gully. Nortje replaced Philander and Kohli edged a delivery short of second slip. The fielders finally stepped forward a little and Kohli responded by pulling the next ball to the boundary at deep mid-on of all places.
The 100 partnership was completed from 212 balls with Rahane contributing only 26. Rabada switched to the Hill End and Kohli clipped his first delivery to the square leg boundary to take his score to 83 and bring up the India 300. The runs were starting to come a little quicker now that the shine had been removed from the new ball. After the drinks interval the South Africans used the DRS on an lbw appeal from Maharaj’s first ball of the day to Rahane. The system was up and running again and Chris Gaffaney’s original decision of not out was upheld. Nortje was brought on from the Pavilion End and continued to leak runs at a rate of five per over and so far at least was failing to justify his selection. Rahane brought up his half century from 141 balls.
Muthusamy came on at the Pavilion End with Kohli on 96 and Philander replaced Maharaj at the Hill End. The Indian captain completed his 26th Test century from 173 balls including 16 fours with a wonderful straight drive off Philander. Lunch was taken with the score 356 – 3 from 113 overs with 83 runs being added in the session from 27.5 overs. During the interval I got talking with some local cricket enthusiasts about Bird Watching and explained how much I enjoy visiting India at this time of the year and watching the Baya Weavers constructing their nests. I’m fortunate to have a Baya construction site very close to my hotel within the fairly dilapidated and uncared for grounds surrounding the sports complex located next door. The construction of a Baya Weaver’s nest is a work of art that doesn’t need any input from Ambuja or Dalmiya cement. During the initial stages the birds use pliable fresh green grass stems and by the time the new home is ready for avian habitation the colour of the dwelling will have been dried brown by the relentless effect of the sun.
The players returned and my focus turned towards cricket once more. Rabada and Muthusamy bowled immediately after the resumption and Kohli took eight runs off the fast bowler’s first over. Maharaj replaced Muthusamy after two overs and Rahane was caught behind off a very faint edge for 59. A partnership worth 178 valuable runs had finally come to an end ( 376 – 4 ). Jadeja was promoted up the order and Kohli brought up India’s 400 with a thunderous drive through extra cover off Rabada. Kohli took a wild swipe at a delivery from Maharaj and the ball flew straight past du Plessis at slip to take the Indian captain’s score to 147. Kohli again edged Maharaj to the third man boundary and this time he completed 150 from 241 balls. A third edge from Kohli did not amount to third time lucky for South Africa as it merely added another four runs to his tally.
Jadeja was unusually subdued at this stage. It needed a full toss from Maharaj before he hit his first boundary from his 46th delivery faced. Unfortunately for the South Africans there was no stopping him after that. The score moved on to 444 – 4 and never mind standing on one leg David Shepherd would have done a hand stand had he witnessed this. Philander replaced Nortje and Kohli smashed his first ball straight down the ground for his 26th boundary of the innings. Kohli then deliberately targeted Maharaj and hit a couple of assertive boundaries on the leg side. Tea was taken with the score 473 – 3 from 141 overs with 117 runs coming in the session for the loss of one wicket in 28 overs.
There appeared to be no threat of rain and a significantly larger crowd had turned up to watch the afternoon session compared with the previous day. The century partnership was completed from 146 balls and as with Rahane earlier Jadeja on this occasion only contributed 26. Kohli flicked a delivery from Muthusamy to fine leg for a couple of runs to complete his seventh double century from 295 balls including 28 fours. At the same time he completed 7,000 Test runs and became only the seventh Indian batsman to achieve that particular feat. He wasn’t finished yet though and a long hop from Muthusamy was hit over cow corner for Kohli’s first six of the innings. He was then caught by du Plessis at slip when on 208 but it turned out to be off another no-ball from Muthusamy. Fourteen runs were eventually taken off the over and the Indian total went beyond 500.
Markram replaced Muthusamy and Jadeja smashed the first two deliveries to the mid-wicket fence. The left hander batsman completed his half century from 80 balls and celebrated with his trademark bat twirl. Maharaj switched ends and Jadaja hit his first ball for another enormous six. Kohli hit an inside out six over extra cover and 21 runs were creamed from the over. The 550 came up with the last 50 runs coming from only 4 overs in 17 minutes. Muthusamy got the full treatment in the next over and conceded a further 13. Maharaj managed to hurt his shoulder fielding off his own bowling and eventually left the field to undergo a scan to see what damage might have occurred. Kohli was deliberately scoring mostly in singles trying to give the strike to Jadeja to see if he might be able to reach 100 before the inevitable declaration. A short delivery to Kohli was pulled to the mid-wicket boundary to take his score to 246 and his highest in Tests. He completed his first Test 250 from 334 balls and the Indian 600 came up with the last 100 being scored in only 43 minutes.
Jadeja was finally caught at long-on by de Bruyn off Muthusamy for 91 and Kohli immediately declared with the score 601 – 5 from 156.3 overs. There were still 16 overs to be bowled in the day and Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav opened the bowling for India in the South African innings. Elgar kept out the first over from Sharma and Markram was plumb lbw to the second delivery from Yadav ( 2 – 1 ). Sudhir suddenly appeared and informed us of his intention to climb the hill opposite where we were sitting and to stick an Indian flag at the top early the following morning. Bavuma had positioned himself by the boundary edge in his pads with bat in hand clearly not expecting the Elgar / de Bruyn partnership to last too long. Elgar soon played on trying to take the bat away at the very last moment and clearly failing ( 13 – 2 ). Umesh Yadav had taken both wickets.
Bavuma got off the mark with a booming drive off Ishant through extra cover to the boundary. He then survived an appeal for caught behind down the leg side after an umpire review and a chai wallah fortunately appeared to relieve me of 50 Rupees and provide me with a little boost of energy to get me through the last ten overs. An edge from Bavuma fell just short of Kohli at third slip and de Bruyn had a lucky escape too when the ball flew off a leading edge in Jadeja’s first over and landed safely between two fielders. De Bruyn edged the last ball of Jadeja’s over but Rahane was standing too far back at slip. Shami replaced Umesh Yadav at the Hill End and appealed for a catch at the wicket off his first delivery. Umpire Gaffaney ruled not out but his decision had to be overturned when hotspot found an edge following Kohli’s review ( 33 – 3 ).
Nortje was sent out as a Night-Watchman and survived a close lbw shout to his first ball. He was given out caught behind to his fourth delivery but immediately called for a review believing he hadn’t hit it. The decision was again overturned on appeal and umpire Gaffaney had made two serious gaffs within one over. Nortje was dropped at third slip by Agarwal when the ball flew close to his left shoulder and he only managed to get one hand to the ball. Only 15 of the 16 overs were possible before the clock showed 5 pm with the score 36 – 3 and Theunis de Bruyn 20 not out. Interestingly in the 31 Tests prior to this series, the South Africans had bowled out their opponents in the first innings each time and the average first innings score was only 248. In two Tests in this series so far they have bowled 292.3 overs, conceded 1103 runs and taken only 12 Indian wickets.
DAY THREE: The Indians lead by 326 runs after the first innings but Philander and Maharaj force the bowlers to toil all day under the hot sun; Day three in Pune.
Sometimes it is difficult to quantify the magnitude of Kohli’s achievements with a bat in his hands. He scored his first double century in his 42nd Test against the West Indies in June 2016. Since then no other batsman has scored more than two double tons with Azhar Ali, Alastair Cook and Steven Smith each having scored two. Kohli by comparison has accumulated seven. The match began on Day three with Sudhir waving his flag from the top of the hill far away in the distance. Shami and Umesh Yadav opened the bowling and Nortje edged the second delivery of Yadav’s over short of third slip. Shami took full advantage of the easy wicket on offer and had Nortje caught at fourth slip by Kohli with a sharply lifting delivery he was forced to fend off in the next over ( 41 – 4 ). Du Plessis almost played on in similar fashion to Elgar the previous evening trying to remove the bat at the last possible moment and the resulting inside edge just missed the stumps on its way to the boundary. Peter had joined us on the lower level just before the start of play. Each morning the Stewards make him climb around 10 flights of stairs to get to the top stand where his designated complimentary seat is located after which he immediately takes the lift straight back down to our level. The lifts are inside the security cordon and the stairs are outside. Hence once you have made your way beyond the last line of officialdom you can effectively use the elevator to sit exactly where you want.
De Bruyn was excellently caught by Saha with both hands diving in front of first slip off Umesh Yadav ( 53 – 5 ). De Kock hit his second delivery through the covers to get off the mark with a boundary. Ishant Sharma replaced Shami after forty minutes and Ashwin took over from Yadav. Sharma was warned by Gaffaney for running on the wicket and de Kock edged Ashwin to where second slip should have been. Kohli responded by immediately putting a fielder there. It was the same old story with the Indian field placing arrangements and with a lead of 550 and the opposition 5 down it made absolutely no sense not to automatically have a second slip. Shami returned from the Hill End as I bemoaned the absence of the Ice Cream Wallah for the second day on the trot. He had provided an excellent service on the first day and I can only imagine he has been kidnapped by the Chai Wallah syndicate as part of some on-going turf war inside the ground.
Jadeja came on from the Pavilion End and du Plessis launched his second delivery into the Pavilion. The 50 partnership with de Kock was completed from 79 balls. Ashwin replaced Shami at the Hill End and du Plessis hit three boundaries through the off side from Jadeja’s next over to bring up his own half century from 64 balls. De Kock was bowled by Ashwin for 31 from a delivery that appeared to turn quite sharply ( 128 – 6 ). The partnership had put on 75 runs in 76 minutes. Muthusamy was dropped just before lunch, a difficult chance to Kohli diving full stretch at short mid-wicket. He eventually got off the mark with a 5 thanks to a wayward throw attempting to run him out. Lunch arrived with the score 136 – 6 from 42 overs with 100 runs added in the session for the loss of 3 wickets from 27 overs.
Sudhir came down from his mountain during the interval and joined a decent crowd that was at least double the attendance of the previous two days. Ashwin and Jadeja continued bowling after the break and Muthusamy was given out lbw to Jadeja while not playing a shot by Nigel llong after what felt like an eternity. The replay screen showed it to be a very good decision ( 139 – 7 ). Jadeja was getting the ball to turn enough to make the batsmen have to fully concentrate on every delivery. Rohit Sharma was given an over to allow the bowlers to switch ends and Du Plessis was caught by Rahane at slip off Ashwin for 64 ( 162 – 8 ). The spinners bowled throughout the first hour and 19 overs were recorded. Umesh returned from the Hill End under relatively clear skies and there was no sign of the predicted thunderstorms arriving. After three overs of pace, Ashwin returned and the spinners bowled in tandem again.
An edge from Philander came off the boot of Agarwal at forward short leg but no-one was able to grab the rebound. Maharaj played a classy drive straight down the ground and then winced in pain remembering the injury to his right shoulder. Maharaj pulled Shami to the square leg boundary and needed treatment for his shoulder once again. The two tail-end batsmen were doing their country proud and at Tea they had survived 111 balls between them and added 35 runs for the ninth wicket. The scoreboard was showing 197 – 7 from 77 overs. Philander had required 22 deliveries to get off the mark and had actually faced 111 balls on his own for 23 runs at the interval having started his innings almost an hour before Maharaj. After the break the 50 partnership was completed from 130 balls and the new ball was taken after 81 overs with the score 212 – 8.
Philander received a brute of a delivery from Shami that had him on the deck for a few moments. The floodlights were switched on as he dusted himself down and continued to frustrate the Indian bowlers. The quicks had a few overs each and then the spinners returned. Ashwin dropped a caught and bowled opportunity diving across the wicket to his right when Maharaj was on 44. The South African spinner responded by hitting a boundary off the back foot to take his score to 48, his highest in 27 Test matches. Two more runs to wide long-on allowed him to complete a maiden half century from 96 balls, a remarkable effort given that he was clearly in considerable pain with his shoulder. Umesh replaced Jadeja with the Indian captain at a loss as to what to do. Rather than have some patience and stick to a specific plan he was changing everything far too quickly out of panic and pure frustration. The spinners returned and the 100 partnership came up from 230 balls. Philander played a beautiful drive to an over pitched delivery from Umesh. Maharaj edged Jadeja once more when on 67 and again there was no-one at second slip. The partnership finally came to an end when Maharaj was caught by Rohit Sharma at leg slip off an inside edge on to his pad off the bowling of Ashwin ( 271 – 9 ). The partnership had lasted 10 minutes short of three hours and had taken up 259 deliveries. Maharaj had scored 72 from 132 balls, an innings he will cherish for the rest of his playing career and beyond.
Rabada survived an inside edge to his first delivery but he was given out lbw in the last over of the day from Ashwin some 15 minutes later. The South Africans had reached 275 all out in the end and Philander was undefeated on 44 from an incredible 192 balls faced in 3 hours and 44 minutes at the crease. It was the longest innings he had ever played and the same was true of Maharaj. With the South African innings closing at the natural end to the day’s play the Indian captain had the luxury of not having to decide on whether or not to enforce the follow-on until first thing on Sunday morning. Given the length of time his bowlers were forced to toil in the sun today there is every chance he may decide to bat for 50 overs to give them a bit of a rest.